Cindy McCain reportedly said today that Obama has “waged the dirtiest campaign in American history.” Well, at least she limited it to American history, sounds more believable that way, perhaps.
This coming from the wife of the man whose 2000 South Carolina campaign was torpedoed by the Bush/Rove cadre, who spred the rumor that their adopted Bangladeshi daughter was actually her husband’s love child with a black prostitute?
So, how does all this work, exactly? You just say stuff, out loud, that you pulled out of your butt, knowing that, whatever it is and however little evidence you could give to back any of it up, someone somewhere is going to hear this shit and believe it? And, not to worry, in a month’s time, no, wait, in a week, no, in three days, you can deny you ever said a word of it?
So here’s the strategy, as I understand it—and for this Karl Rove gets to be called a “genius,” albeit an evil one?—one, say stupid shit; two, see who picks up on it; three, get pollsters to calculate how the public is responding to it; and then, four, drop it if nobody picks up on it, or spin it if somebody pays it some attention—in which case: (a) if the public can see through the bullshit (rarely happens in time for it to matter much), you claim to be misquoted, or, better, persecuted by the media, or, more likely, (b) if the public buys it, you run with it for all it’s worth.
So I watched the second debate, a cold Stella Artois in my hand, my apolitical, irreligious, non-portfolio-bearing, and perfectly beatific little dog curled up beside me like a Helvetica comma—just to watch the dirt fly.
I wondered how many times Obama was going to say he agrees with McCain this time. Dirty.
I wondered how many times McCain was going to call Obama naïve and inexperienced to his face, and Obama would just stand there and take it. Ooh, Barack, you make me feel nasty.
I watched the debate on CNN only because I had watched the first two debates on CNN.
This one, unlike the other two, was formatted as a “town hall” meeting. It’s no more a real debate than the other kind—the candidates still pretend simultaneously that they didn’t hear the question and that they have in fact already answered the question, only YOU weren’t paying attention. In fact, unlike a real debate, these debates put the burden of proof on the audience—can you eke out any substance from this shit?
In terms of style and ease, Barack Obama won the evening.
Obama stepped close to the studio audience to answer the first question (about the economy); McCain stepped even closer. Later, Obama paced the semicircle to look every audience member in the eye; immediately after, McCain followed suit. I envisioned that in just a matter of minutes both candidates would be cuddling up in somebody’s lap. It didn’t happen, but the sense of competitive chumminess was unmistakably thick in the air.
This was theater, folks, mixed with the giddy tension of a tough job interview. Obama took it in stride, warming up as the debate wore on. McCain did fine, too, though exhibiting less grace than the Democrat. He wasn’t awful, but he smelled of self-pity, desperate and ingratiating chuckles, cloying obsequity, and flop sweat.
Obama spoke to the promise of the future and the importance of fairly sharing the burden of recovery and progress. McCain repeated his record in the Senate—in curiously vague terms: he’s done “a lot” and he’s made unpopular choices, disliked by his own party almost as much as by the Democrats.
And, oh yes, he would not raise taxes.
Obama responded, pointing out that the current tax code benefits the wealthy much more than ordinary workers. He urged revising taxation, lowering taxes for everyone making less than $200,000 a year, including the majority of small businesses.
Short of exchanging actual blows, Fight Club style, the two candidates, especially Obama, were more lively, more aggressive than they were in the first debate, especially on the issue of foreign policy.
Granted, I have already decided my vote is going to Obama. But I found it difficult to follow almost everything McCain had to say tonight. Obama made impressions and gave me something to think about. McCain used the same old lullabies—weak in specifics and coherence, rich in bumper-sticker-style cant, fleshed out with the same inflated language THE BIG LEBOWSKI mocked so effectively in George H.W. Bush’s speeches: “This aggression will not stand.” He even repeated, word for word, his sound bites from the first debate, e.g., looking into Putin’s eyes and seeing three letters: K G B.
Historically, though, these debates usually have little impact on how people intend to vote. I’ll be surprised if this one is an exception. No doubt McCain supporters can find something endearing in their candidate’s fumbling, dry-throated responses to fairly direct questions. These supporters may likewise judge Obama harshly for his talkiness and phlegmatic serenity, typifying his manner as “elitist.”
But, setting aside partisanship, or trying to, I find it hard that anyone could judge the results differently than I do: For flexibility and agile intelligence, Obama was the winner tonight. McCain, though not disastrous, and in spite of decades of public service, seemed unready, unprepared, and unfocused.